Vodka on Ice: a Year with the Russians in Antarctica.

Recounts his experience as the only UK citizen on a Russian Soviet wintering expedition in 1963-64. The base was Novolazarevska (on the Antarctic coast of the Indian Ocean) and the personnel 12 Russians, 1 Czech, and Charles.

p. 51: mentions library at Mawson base.

p. 58, on Communist Party meetings: Attendance was compulsory for all party members off watch, but voluntary for non-members and for the expedition staff. It was the first of a number of Party meetings that I attended. Each time I was struck by how much they had in common with church services back in England. The ‘sermon’ began with a text from the ‘bible’—in this case the works of Lenin—which was then interpreted in a fairly orthodox way by the speaker. Lenin’s works were so prolific that they provided scope for a wide choice of subject matter. Another thing they had in common with some of the sermons I have endured was that they were boring.

p. 59, picture of wall newspaper aboard ship 1965.

p. 72, picture of library shelves at Novolazarevskaya.

p. 86: Vasily had a deep interest in politics. One day I found him reading Principles of Scientific Atheism.Another time I found him poring over Spravochnik Agitator, which translates as the ‘Agitator’s reference book’, though in reality it was a communist propagandist’s handbook. Later, I borrowed the book. On the face of it, the pages were filled with convincing arguments on the merits of communism and the evils of capitalism….

p. 90: Vadim [a mechanic] asked me to send him a copy of Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which was banned in the Soviet Union.

p. 95: Tolya heard on the radio that 23 April was William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday. On mentioning this to Nikolay, he drew my attention to the complete works of Shakespeare in our library. There was a handsomely bound eight-volume set (in Russian). There were 15 books by Lenin, including On the Building of the Party and On Communist Morals, and a number about him. We had Dialectics of Nature by Friedrich Engels, Selected Works of Karl Marx, Issues of Leninism by Josef Stalin, Communism, Peace and the Happiness of the People by Nikita Khrushchev, The Present International Situation and the Foreign Policy of our Country by Cho En Lai and Speeches 1961-63 by Fidel Castro. Then there was Textbook of Political Economy, Fundamentals of Communist Training, Reference Book of the Party Worker and Contemporary InternationalProblems. In total, our political literature spanned more than two metres of bookshelf. ‘Nothing,’ my diary notes, ‘is left to the imagination.’

There were also translations into Russian of works by Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, John Galsworthy (15 volumes), Jack London, Jules Verne, Anatole France, Nikolay Gogol, Stendhal (15 volumes), Thomas Mann (10 volumes), and Somerset Maugham. Drawing my attention to the packed bookshelves, Nikolay said, ‘There, you see, we have a wide variety of foreign literature as well as Russian.’ Later I realized that the Western literature in the library was largely selected, or at least approved, because the chosen authors wrote of the class distinctions that were held to be inherent in capitalist society.

The only English language book in the library was Our Bessie by Rosa, Carey, published in New York around 1890. I had brought my own books and, as I finished each one, I would pass it on to anyone keen to read English. Seva the aerologist was the keenest reader.

p. 96: picture of bookshelves and dining table.

p. 113: “we had been using paper napkins at meals. However, like many things in Russia, they eventually ran out. As a substitute, we were given pages torn from the works of Lenin. Pretending to be shocked, I said, ‘So this is all you think of the works of Lenin? Quick as a flash, Tolya replied, ‘Ah, but you see we know them by heart, so there is no longer any need to keep them.’ But he could not hide the twinkle in his eye.

p. 119: I was presented [for my 38th birthday] with one of 15 volumes of Stendhal, each member of the station having one other on his birthday, Treshnikov’s book of the history of Antarctica…[etc].

p. 127: Christmas Day was not celebrated, though there was a celebration because it was the anniversary of the Proclamation of Soviet Power in the Ukraine. It was also the day that our toilet paper supply ran out. Old copies of Pravda came in handy from then on.

p. 133, toward the end of the year Charles started teaching English conversation: It had been difficult to find English texts…that sustained their interest, until George Meyer brought on board a copy of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. The pupils not only became diligent but enthusiastic, there was a waiting list to read it, and bedside lamps were on at all time of the night to snatch a few extra pages. The book seems to deal with situations that have universal appeal….

p. 139, while stopping for cargo on the West African coast, his students bought some books ashore: One brave soul bought three books that were banned at home: Ian Fleming’s From Russia with Love, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. I took some comfort from the fact that my English classes at Novolazarevska seemed to have broadened their cultural outlook.